The first thing I noticed as I stepped out of the hotel was just how massively crowded the streets and sidewalks and plazas were. Giant tour groups herded by guides with their guidons - sticks topped with flags or scarves or bows or little stuffed animals - crammed the narrow passageways and made it difficult to make forward progress. I am so thankful that I've been able to visit this city many times and to see it in the earlier years when such massive tourism wasn't as common.
|Pantheon: side view, with front portico columns visible on the right|
|Pantheon: side view. There is a retaining wall along this side,|
the perfect place to sit and eat a gelato or just people-watch
Just a short couple of blocks away from the hotel was the Pantheon, so I stopped there first. My husband, son and I visited here in the 90's over the Christmas semester break. My son had just finished taking an architecture class at University, so he was a fount of information about the structure of this remarkable, ancient building. Today it is so crowded with tourists I was hardly able to take photos, and definitely couldn't get a good photo of the exterior from the front because of the crowds.
|Pantheon interior: built in the 1st century AD by Hadrian, it was converted|
to a Christian church in the 7th century. This is the altar as it looks today
|This beautiful and unique feature of the Pantheon is also a|
key architectural feature today. It is still the largest
unreinforced concrete dome in the world. How did those
ancient day architects and builders do that?!
From there I made my way through the masses to get to Piazza Navona, another of the iconic stops along the tourist trail. Like the piazza in front of the Pantheon, this too was crammed with large tour groups. I walked around the beautiful Fontana Fiumi until I could find a good vantage point to take some photos.
|Fontana Fiumi: Fountain of the Four Rivers, Piazza Navona|
|Far end of the piazza. Love how the buildings actually curve to follow the|
curvature of the piazza. This space was once an ancient race track in Roman days,
hence the oval shape of the piazza.
Fontana Fiumi is the centerpiece of this piazza, which is anchored at both ends by two other beautiful fountains. I thought about taking a seat and having a leisurely espresso at one of the many trattorie that line this piazza but they were all so full of tourists and anyway, the views would be blocked by the huge groups that clogged the open spaces. Maybe another day.
|Fontana del Nettuno: Fountain of Neptune, in Piazza Navona|
Along the way back toward the Pantheon plaza, I passed a little grocery store and decided to duck inside, have a look, and buy some fruit and snacks. It was a warren of space carved out of the multiple adjoining buildings...totally unique! I wandered from small room to small room, each containing a particular food category. One room was fresh fruit and vegetables, another contained packaged dry goods, another room had fresh dairy and meat cases, yet another was just cookies, candy, snack food, and toiletries. And then there was the wine and beer room! I selected a package of cookies and a nice hand of bananas and then went in search of the little room that contained the cash registers. What a cool experience!
Still too early for dinner, I continued wandering, side-stepping the large tour groups until I'd worked my way over to Via Corsa, stopping first at the hotel to drop off my groceries and to grab a quick espresso to keep me going.
|€1.00 for an espresso. What would Starbucks say??|
Via Corsa is the main shopping thoroughfare and is also the way to Piazza di Populo and Trevi Fountain. This is territory to explore tomorrow. So I turned around and walked back the way I came, through the lovely Piazza di Monte Cittorio, above which towers the beautiful Palazzo Monte Cittorio.
As I continued in the general direction of the Pantheon, I took some small little alleys and wandered down a little alley that had a very nice little restaurant. I stopped to read the menu then decided to step inside and have dinner. The sun was getting low in the sky and I knew that at this point I was functioning on borrowed energy. I had a very nice pasta dish with giant crayfish, and a split of Italian Chianti to go with it.
|Pasta with giant crayfish and a bottle of red table wine|
I was pretty much done for the day. I was happy to return to the hotel and to plan my next day's adventure.
Next: Check off the other remaining iconic tourist sites then explore the less-traveled and less-known areas of Rome.